Victoria author pens Wren romance story

Lilian Harper Phibbs today and in 1945 at age 18.

Lilian Harper Phibbs today and in 1945 at age 18.

Peter Mallett Staff Writer ~

Lilian Harper Phibbs, a former member of the British Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS), has published her first book at age 93, and is donating proceeds from sales to benefit other military veterans.

Memory Lane, A Love Story is an account of her romance in war-ravaged Britain during the Second World War. Harper Phibbs met the love of her life Murray on a packed dance floor on the eve of Victory Europe day. He was a member of the Canadian Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve, seconded as radar officer to HMS Trafalgar.

The story is set in Britain during the final months of the war before Germany’s surrender. The narrative is structured around their personal diary entries and letters to each other.

She began her writing project three years ago following the death of her husband for family history purposes and, in the process, it turned out to be therapeutic.

The backdrop to the story is an embattled country enduring years of food rationing, nightly blackouts, deadly German air bombardments, and uncertainty of the war’s result – who would be the victor?

Harper Phibbs opens a pathway to the past for the reader through vivid descriptions and details of her experiences, like the dormitory she shared with 30 women that came with strict rules, sparse amenities, and that overarching fear war brings about.

Despite the stress of war, true love would blossom. The romance was ignited May 7, 1945, when they glimpsed each other on a crowded dance floor, and he made quick strides to ask her to dance.

Woven between the growing relationship is the historical context of the time: the work of a Wren and a Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve sailor, the politics, and the aftermath of war.

The larger-sized paperback also includes several war-time photos of the two and a collection of hand-drawn illustrations and the cover art by their daughter Christine Phibbs-Barr, a local Victoria artist.

After the war, the couple married and Lilian came to Canada as a war bride. Murray was employed at the National Research Council and while there, it was made possible to finish his education at Laval University.

Their love continued to flourish over 70 years until the day of Murray’s death in 2016.

Harper Phibbs decided to share their story to celebrate their romance and let others know love is possible even in the most desperate of times.

“I feel there is an intangible link between us. It was meant to be because there were so many coincidences that brought us together despite the terrible tragedy of wartime,” she said.

Copies of Memory Lane are available in Victoria at Bolen Books, Tanners Books in Sidney, The Veterans Lodge at Broadmead and Another printing of the book is also being undertaken in Britain, with sales being organized by the Association of Wrens.

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